What the United States hockey team fought against valiantly for three periods – indeed for the whole tournament – became as inescapable as a wrecking ball once overtime started: Canada is the best hockey team in the world.
Canada beat the United States, 3-2, in overtime in Sunday's gold-medal game, ending a memorable afternoon – and a memorable 17 days – for both the victor and the vanquished. The gold medal was Canada's 14th, a Winter Olympics record. The silver was America's 37th total medal, also a Winter Olympics record.
In a country that helped pioneer the notion of international peacekeeping in places of conflict, the result could not have been more appropriate: You set your record, we set our record, and everyone goes away happy.
The game itself exemplified this Canadian spirit, which will stand as the enduring memory of these Games: Canada beat the world, but nicely.
Sure, Canada beat the US in hockey Sunday. But what American could not be proud of what happened on the ice? Canada is a team of Michael Jordans. The US is a team of Scottie Pippens and Steve Kerrs. Talented, absolutely. Franchise players, no.
Yet the US stood toe-to-toe with with them for three periods. While not reaching the pure entertainment value of the first USA-Canada game, it was better fundamental hockey. The teams were no longer trying to remember who was sitting in the locker next to them. They were teams.
But even in that comeback were the seeds of America's undoing. In short, the US needed to do the extraordinary just to score.
When overtime came, and the four-on-four format opened more ice (with each team having to play with one less player), the Canadians' skill told. The US simply could not keep up with them, and as the period progressed the ice tilted toward the American goal.
Canada wins Canada's game
But who dares argue with the result?
Moments after the game, the No. 6 search term on America-dominated Google was "what is icing in hockey," followed closely by "how many periods in Olympic hockey"? America might as well have been asking: What is hockey?
In Canada, the more relevant question might be: What is life without hockey?
And this is, ultimately, why they have produced better players. Why they won the gold. Why they cared more. Monday morning, life will go on in the United States. Many Canadians, however, will never leave this moment, but rather bring it along with them though countless Olympic cycles and into old age, when they will remember the day that Canada won the gold medal – and smile.
Sunday afternoon, Canadians were hanging from high-rise balconies like orangutans, hooting with bestial joy. They were taking pictures of TV screens showing the medal celebration at Canada Hockey Place, if only to prove that they existed somewhere on the earth near a television today.
And anyone who has been to these Games will be glad of that fact.
Vancouver: passion lives here, actually
Turin said "Passion Lives Here," and then promptly went about proving the precise opposite in a drab Olympics. Vancouver promised an Olympics "With Glowing Hearts" and has done so so thoroughly that it has captured the world's heart.
"The atmosphere was excellent," says Olympic historian David Wallechinsky. "I don't think there's been a Winter Games with such a good mood on the streets. That's something you normally associate with a Summer Games."
Of course, hockey was at the core of this excitement. But it was not its circumference.
Even in the first week, when Canada's Olympics were characterized more by heartbreak than the blinding glare of repeated gold, the Canadians were more than gracious. Their excitement seemed almost undimmed. Each athlete was cheered – lustily. Each event was full.
What Vancouver has proven is that an Olympics can only be as good as its host nation. The athletes' achievements – always extraordinary – are the tinder. But the crowd is the spark that brings life to an Olympic Games.
For the past five Olympics, every host has sought some gold beyond the slopes and ice rinks. Salt Lake sought to show the world that it was just like the rest of us, really. Athens wanted to show that it was, in fact, still worthy of its heritage. Turin was no longer a tired husk of Italian industry. And Beijing announced its arrival as a world power.
What Vancouver has shown us is what Canada really is – that domination and accommodation are not mutually exclusive, that kindness and confidence can hold hands, that will, when allied to courage, can accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Yes, Sunday was a fitting end to these Olympics. A day when everyone wins, it seems, is a truly Canadian day.